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What is it?

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It's a bacterial infection, which is found in semen and vaginal fluids. Up to one in ten sexually active young people has chlamydia.

How's it transmitted?

Chlamydia is usually passed from one person to another during vaginal, oral or anal sex, or by sharing sex toys. It can live inside cells of the cervix, urethra, rectum and sometimes in the throat and eyes.

Chlamydia can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.

What are the symptoms?

Male chlamydia discharge

Female chlamydia discharge

It's often referred to as the 'silent infection', as most men and women don't have any obvious signs or symptoms, or they're so mild they're not noticed.

Symptoms can appear one to three weeks after you've come into contact with chlamydia, or many months later, or not until the infection spreads to other parts of your body.

Women might notice:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods or during or after sex
  • Pain with sex or when passing urine
  • Lower abdominal pain

Men might notice:

  • White/cloudy, watery discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Pain when passing urine or painful testicles

If the infection is in the eye or rectum, you may experience discomfort, pain or discharge. Chlamydia in the throat is uncommon and usually has no symptoms.

What's the treatment?

If you think you might have chlamydia, it's important to be tested quickly. Testing is free on the NHS from genitourinary medicine clinics, sexual health clinics, many contraception clinics, your GP and pharmacies.

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme in England is being extended to ensure all sexually active women and men under 25 can access chlamydia testing - this includes testing in other settings such as youth clubs and colleges.

You can also buy home chlamydia testing kits, but the accuracy of these tests varies so it's important to get good advice from a pharmacist.

Women having intrauterine contraception (IUD or IUS) fitted, or having an abortion, will be offered a chlamydia test.

The test is simple and painless. Either a urine test is done or a swab (like a cotton bud) is used to take a sample of cells from the vagina or urethra. If you've had anal or oral sex, a swab will be taken from the rectum or throat. Your eyes will be tested if you have symptoms of conjunctivitis (discharge from the eye).

Chlamydia is easy to treat with antibiotics, either as a single dose or longer course for up to two weeks.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you're pregnant, or think you might be, or you're breastfeeding - this might affect the type of antibiotic you're given. The antibiotics used to treat chlamydia interact with the combined oral contraceptive pill and the contraceptive patch, making them less effective, so check this with the doctor or nurse.

To avoid reinfection, any sexual partners should be treated too. If complications occur, another treatment might be needed.

What happens if it isn't treated?

Without treatment, the infection can spread to other parts of the body causing damage and long-term health problems, including infertility,

In women, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This can lead to:

  • Ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy develops outside the womb, usually in the fallopian tube)
  • Blocked fallopian tubes (the tubes that carry the egg from ovary to womb)
  • Long-term pelvic pain

In men, chlamydia can lead to painful infection in the testicles and possibly reduced fertility.

Rarely, chlamydia can lead to inflammation of the joints in both men and women. This is known as reactive arthritis. When this involves the urethra and the eyes, it is known as Reiter's syndrome.

Advice and support

Go to your GP, a genitourinary medicine clinic or a sexual health clinic. All services are confidential. You can also ask a pharmacist.

You can call fpa's helpline on 0845 122 8690.

Article originally published by the BBC based on information from the FPA